Being the name on everyone’s lips is what most businesses aim for, but you need to make sure it is for all the right reasons. By John Burfitt
It is not known if writer Oscar Wilde ever worked in the restaurant and catering business, but one of his most famous quotes has been wisely adopted as a business philosophy that many follow.
Wilde wrote, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Being the talk of the town is what most restaurateurs aim for to ensure the punters keep coming through the doors. But being the name on everyone’s lips can come at a cost, if the buzz about your business is for all the wrong reasons.
Such was the recent case, observed by RMIT Media & Communication’s lecturer Natalie McKenna, of a Melbourne restaurant that had everyone talking.
“They did a good thing in the beginning when they were offering lobster rolls at half price, and they got a lot of coverage on social media,” McKenna recalls.
“What was not good was that not all the online reviews were good, and sadly, the place did not last. There was plenty of buzz, but the basic product and its price point needed revising, and the buzz eventually turned on them.”
It is the one point agreed on by most public relations consultants in food and hospitality—if you want to generate real buzz about your restaurant, the first thing is to ensure the business is in good shape.
“If you are chasing attention, be sure your house is in order and what you are serving up is worth talking about,” David Wasserman of Wasamedia says. “It comes down to what is your point of difference in the market, and how are you delivering on that?”
What takes place during the first three months of a restaurant is crucial, says Stevan Premutico, chief executive officer of online restaurant reservations platform Dimmi.
“It’s what we call the ‘100-day syndrome’—what happens during that time when you are the cool new kid in town,” he says.
“Hype survives for about 100 days as people are attracted by their curiosity of what your place is offering, supported by lots of media focus. After that, you need to continue to reinvent yourself so that people have a reason to be interested in what you’re doing.”
Adds David Wasserman, “Think of Madonna, who has kept herself relevant by constantly reinventing herself. You need to approach your restaurant the same way to rekindle the fire. And sometimes all that takes is having a really good story to tell.”
One such story Wasserman helped tell was with the recent Bacon Festival at the Sydney cafe, Cuckoo Callay. After a six-week media campaign, the festival with its tagline of ‘Pigs Will Fry’ was attracting up to 350 people a day to the cafe.
“We had a theme, a story and we had some fun with it,” Wasserman says. “We gave people something to engage with, and we gave a point of difference to the business. We also let people know about it through the effective use of traditional and social media.”
Amber Forrest-Bisley, director of agency Cardinal Spin, agrees that working with a theme is a great strategy for building buzz, but insists that it needs to be more authentic than a quick gimmick.
“Buzz is created by something real and tangible, so a creative approach makes it easy for people to write about.” Nola James of Bomba, Green Park Dining and Añada, Melbourne
“Strategies with a hook or a theme can be flimsy or pure gold, depending on your level of legitimacy,” Forrest-Bisley says. “A Mexican cantina might be popular today, but what gives your venue the edge? Did you live in a village in Cancun as the president’s personal chef, or is your wife Mexican and has family recipes passed down through generations? They are the stories that can make the difference.”
Whether it is a new business that needs to launch into the marketplace or an established business that needs new attention, there are basic rules to follow to gain traction.
A media release with strong images remains the foundation, as is an updated website and a launch event to announce the latest moves to key media and influencers.
“Be sure you have a good relationship with key journos, food bloggers and social influencers; be known for providing good solid information that deserves attention, rather than dealing in hype that no-one wants to write about,” says Nola James of Melbourne’s Bomba, Green Park Dining and Añada.
“Buzz is created by something real and tangible, so a creative approach makes it easy for people to write about.”
Today it is social media that can be essential to not only creating the buzz, but also keeping its flame burning. And the adage that a picture paints 1000 words is never truer than on apps such as Instagram and Facebook.
“Instagram is important, so good images of food are essential, and that’s why the food landing on the table has to look good,” says RMIT’s Natalie McKenna. “A lot of chefs know what they are sending out will be photographed, so the plating up—even on a general day—is really important.
“Anything visually appealing will create a buzz. People want food that tastes great but, just as importantly, looks great. We are such an image-driven culture and you can tell so many stories from such a great picture.”
George Redmond, Wasamedia’s associate director, says the power of Instagram and Facebook to engage directly and excite customers goes far beyond people just looking at pretty pictures.
“To create that buzz, you must have good imagery and good food that will create great pics,” she says. “Getting your customers to act as your ambassadors and making sure they are sharing their experience on social media can be a powerful way to get the word of mouth out there.”
An added value proposition such as a gift voucher, Redmond claims, adds another layer to the buzz.
“With a few of our clients, we have initiated a $100 voucher giveaway every month for the best picture of that restaurant uploaded by a customer onto Instagram or Facebook. That adds even more to the dining experience for them, and if they are the winner, they share it everywhere. That is a whole lot of people the business would not normally have access to, and that can be very powerful.”
Buzz, however, is not all about making new friends. Often, reconnecting with old customers, adds Dimmi’s Stevan Premutico, can take far less time to create new excitement and achieve far greater results. “I always believe you should work with the people who know you and love you, and use the power of your database to get them excited about what is going on,” he says. “Those people already trust what you do, so invite them back in. If your new product is as good as what they remember, that is sure to get people buzzing.”
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